Tag Archives: Life on Mars

Eternal Law: We’re loving angels instead…

There’s a certain irony to knowing that the creators of Eternal Law like their work to be judged on how well it achieves its aims rather than what people think it ought to be achieving, when a lot of people won’t be judging EL on its own terms at all this evening, but on whether it’s as good as Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes (bearing in mind there are plenty of LoM fans who wish A2A had never happened). Personally I’m put in mind of the three series forming a sort of Law and Order: Afterlife – we’ve had the policework, here comes the prosecution…

The premise is a simple one: two angel barristers Zak and Tom (Sam West and Ukweli Roach) fall to earth to help humans (as counsel for the defence). They are helped by Mrs Sheringham (Orla Brady) and have a nemesis in the shape of Richard (Tobias Menzies), prosecuting counsel (and fallen angel).

Of course, this isn’t Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, crucially it doesn’t seem to be Bonekickers either. The mix of straightforward case of the week (Tom and Zak have to defend a man who seems to have shot at his ex-girlfriend  - whose testimony sent him to prison for two years – and her new husband on their wedding day) with an underlying mystery and mythology (Why are the angels here? What’s the big deal about God  - aka Mr Mountjoy – sending a chorister to earth? What sort of frontline is Richard talking about? What exactly does Mr Mountjoy ‘pulling the plug’ entail?) is well judged.

There’s plenty of funny dialogue (the jokes about the stained glass portrait of Terry were a particular highlight) and in Sam West, Eternal Law has a charismatic and highly talented lead (even if he does bear an increasingly uncanny resemblance to Gary Barlow). Zak is the jaded, flawed senior partner, but he’s not a stand-in for Gene Hunt. There’s a subtlety and restraint in the writing (and in Sam West’s performance) that mark him as a man cut from different cloth, albeit from a similar template.

If I have any complaint, it is that it was obvious from the moment we saw Sean dismantling the rifle on the roof after the shooting who the culprit was, but in an episode where we’re discovering the world and its characters, you can get away with a flimsy case of the week. Let’s hope next week’s case is a bit meatier – I have been sufficiently hooked to tune in again. I have high hopes that Eternal Law will be worth a weekly blog post – only time will tell.

If you didn’t watch this episode of Eternal Law, you can do so now on ITV player. I highly recommend doing so.

Posted by Jo the Hat

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Hidden: People in glass houses…


If you’re quick, you can currently catch up with the complete series of four episodes of Hidden on BBC iPlayer.

I’d recommend it. For a start you’ve got Philip Glenister at the heart of it, playing Harry Venn, a solicitor with a murky past. Put the words ‘Philip Glenister’ and ‘murky’ together, and I’m a happy woman (having said that, and it feels bizarre to admit this after the superb *Life on Mars, I may have loved him most for his role in Cranford).

(* see here for my esteemed colleague Jo-the-Hat’s Lustbox post for Gene Hunt)

He’s in amusing and laconic mode in Hidden. The premise isn’t startlingly innovative – it’s a bit Philip Marlowe-esque. Slightly seedy Harry, who has a guilty secret (he was getaway driver in a violent raid committed by his brother twenty years previously), is paid a visit by a beautiful, mysterious dame with a slightly foreign accent, a stranger with ‘trouble’ written right through her like a stick of rock. This is Gina Hawkes, played by Thekla Reuten, and, as an aside, she has the most beautiful eyebrows I have ever seen.

So, Gina wants Harry to get an imprisoned dodgy geezer off a charge for which she believes him innocent. I won’t go into further details about the plot, because if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t want to spoil it. But let’s just say there’s lots of juicy twists and turns, involving: a particularly nasty variant on a ‘help desk’, much scheming and dirty politics, prison corruption, a top judge, swanking about in Paris, some hiding from baddies in warehouse scenes and the expected computer hacking scenes. Oh yes, and a bit of a nasty occurrence in Kew. Suffice it to say, people in glass houses shouldn’t carry guns.

In other words, there’s quite a lot of what you’d expect from ‘this sort of thing’, but it’s very enjoyable and done with aplomb. And the storyline, whilst complicated, is graspable for audiences used to twisty turny Spooks style drama. There are a occasional sections of dialogue that are a bit hackneyed, and not all of the actors in smaller parts are quite up to the standard of Glenister and Reuten, but there’s plenty to savour here, including a role for the ever-magnificent Anna Chancellor.

Posted by Inkface

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The Joy of Sets: Life on Mars

Schedulers can be a bit rubbish over the summer months. They seem to think we’re all going to be dining al fresco every night and in no need of decent telly. Clearly they also live somewhere where that’s possible. Malta perhaps.

So while they phone in their schedules of blandness, we sit upon our sofas listening to the rain driving against the window and wondering whether watching Lord of the Rings for the fourth time will kill the magic.

What you need gentle viewer is to get your hands on some good TV that doesn’t seem to merit repeating by the broadcasters. So, let us celebrate the glory that is the DVD boxed set…

First up: Life on Mars – a programme that was immediately rated unmissable here at Hat Towers when it was first aired in 2006.

The first 5 minutes could have come from any modern police procedural if it wasn’t for the fact that our hero DCI Sam Tyler isn’t a rule-breaking, heavy-drinking, chain-smoking maverick. He doesn’t even follow his gut anymore…

It’s a testament to both the writers and to the phenomenal talents of John Simm, that those few minutes in the 21st century provide a perfect miniature portrait of Sam before the shocking sight of him being taken out of shot (and out of this reality) by a speeding car.

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Doctor Who (6.5): Displeasures of the Flesh

I’m not surprised The Rebel Flesh started later than usual tonight. Bless the schedulers for giving parents the chance to pack smaller kids off to bed and avoid the sight of people melting in acid and the grisly Flesh people being formed. I think, perhaps, I should have packed Hat Jr off too. Not that she’s scared by any of that stuff – but it was an episode that required a bit more explanation than usual. And there wasn’t enough ghoulish stuff to keep her six-year-old brain engaged: “Doctor Who is boring without monsters…”

As an episode for older children and grown-ups though, I think it succeeded. It’s dark stuff packed with plenty to really think about (as opposed to the puzzlers that Steven Moffat likes to give us, Matthew Graham has thrown us some issues of morality to chew on). Yes, Matthew Graham – of  Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes (and, uh-hum, Bonekickers…).

Having opened with the chilling sight of two workers coolly leaving their colleague to dissolve (with equal sang-froid: “This is a right pain in the armour.”) in acid and worrying more about the cost of replacing his ‘acid suit’ and filling in the paperwork, Graham quickly makes it clear we’re going to have pay attention, by having them discussing the accident with the man they’ve just left to die. (Or not, obviously, but both of them had Marshall Lancaster’s face.) Continue reading

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The Killing: Slow TV can be good – but not if it’s Midsomer Murders

Don’t ask me why I ended up watching Midsomer Murders last night. I managed about twenty minutes (to give Neil Dudgeon a fair chance) before I could bear it no longer and went off to read a book instead. But I was moved to put fingers to keyboard not by the race row that’s blown up around Midsomer’s Brian True-May, but by the startling contrast between Midsomer and my new favourite thing, The Killing.

Well, durr, you say, the two have nothing in common beyond both being crime fiction. But I’m looking beyond the subtitles, strong female lead, low body count (although it’s risen rapidly in the last few episodes). What strikes me is that both The Killing and Midsomer move at a pace so laid back they would have Jeremy Clarkson accusing them of being lentil-munching, sandal-wearing Grauniad readers, but one has all the tension of an episode of Cash in the Attic, while the other has been keeping me awake at night turning over countless theories as to whodunnit.

If you don’t know what The Killing is, I will attempt to condense 18 hours (yes, one story told in 20 hours, AMAZING, as Popjustice would say) without spoilering for those still catching up on iPlayer. Forbrydelsen (to give it its original Danish title, which actually means The Crime, fact fans) has followed the efforts of Faroe Isle jumper-wearing DI Sarah Lund as she tries to find the person responsible for raping and murdering teenager Nanna Birk-Larsen. It is set against (and within) the election campaign for mayor of Copenhagen and although it has plenty of dark warehouses for Lund to wander around in, there is no sexual tension with her partner DI Jan Meyer, car chases or sensationalism. Instead fans of The Killing are hooked on the small details that have emerged so tantalisingly over the past few weeks and wait with bated breath for the conclusion this weekend.

How can it be that two hours of subtitled Danish crime drama that reveals little of the detectives’ private lives and barely more of the unfolding story can zip past, while two hours in Midsomer drags by like some kind of cruel and unusual punishment?

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Marchlands: Plumbing that goes bump in the night

This is essentially a haunted house story for wimps, since every time the tension and suspense builds up to any degree, it’s interrupted by REALLY BLOODY ANNOYING ADVERTS. Sorry to shout, but really, those twatting meerkats. I’d drown them. And, as it happens, that would fit in nicely with the plot of Marchlands. Actually, I’m really enjoying this. It’s got a great cast. Anne Reid is always class. I’ve loved Denis Lawson ever since Local Hero. Even in 1980s fashions, Alex ‘Dr Corday’ Kingston is as beautiful as ever here, as is Shelley Conn (from Mistresses, here playing the heavily pregnant Nisha).Dean Andrews from Life on Mars is very good.

And I really like the idea, of the core ‘character’ of a drama being a house, as lived in by three families over five decades. To make this series, they had to film every scene from each era (1960s, 1980s and present day) before entirely refitting and decorating the same house. Which they do brilliantly. I find it fascinating.

I’ve never lived in a new house, and one thing I like about buying old ones is uncovering the ‘secrets’ of past occupants. So long as your property has never had a forensic makeover, you discover things over the years about the previous occupants. A buried ornament in the garden, patches of ancient layers of wallpaper, kids’ stickers or pencilled heights drawn inside the cupboard doors. And if you’re in a town or village, you might bump people who once lived there.

Hopefully they won’t remember it because it was the site of a tragedy, however. One which seems to have led to the plumbing being frankly not up to Corgi standards. Marchlands, it seems, was once the place where an eight year old girl, Alice, lived, who drowned in tragic, and slightly mysterious circumstances and whose restless ghost haunts the house (and plumbing) for future inhabitants.

I guess the true story will slowly unravel. I fear Denis Lawson may not come out of it well, but I may be wrong.

We’re now three episodes in, but you can catch up, thanks to ITV Player allowing access to programmes for longer than the stingy week that BBC iPlayer offers them (but with ITV Player, you get all the adverts, so it’s swings and roundabouts). My only caveat is that if, like me, you don’t believe in ghosts, you might raise an eyebrow or two, since the story hangs on the troubled spirit of the dead child, Alice, trying to communicate her story through future generations. But even so, this is a good, well written and acted drama.

Posted by Inkface

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Zen: Rufus scorches, Rome smoulders

Lordy there is much to love about the BBC’s Zen. First and foremost, Rufus Sewell. Even if you don’t think he’s the sexiest man on the planet (and at the risk of turning this into another Lustbox, by jove, I hold this belief most firmly), I would hope you will agree that he is a fine and subtle actor who should have been doing exactly this sort of thing years ago.

If you don’t know, or haven’t guessed by now, Zen is brought to you by the same people who brought us Wallander (the Branagh/many cornfields version). The cinematography here  is as distinctive as it is different from its Nordic sibling. It’s not just Rufus who’s scorchio, the Roman heat swelters off the screen in a glorious golden sixties glow. (Sixties as in sexy and swinging, I should add, not the dull, brown, seedy, closer-to-reality sixties of, say, Life on Mars).

So Rufus – sex on a stick and getting to show something close to his natural self-deprecating wit (he even makes smoking look sexy for god’s sake); Rome (and rest of Italian countryside) – almost as gorgeous, if not blessed with same dry sense of humour; cast – fine mix of English men pretending to be Italian (a la Wallander, without cod Italian accents) and Italian women (with real Italian accents, obviously). Have I missed anything? Oh yes, the story!

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Ashes to Ashes (3.8): A love letter to Gene Hunt

Two questions. One, how can a mere blog do justice to a proper thrilling TV event like the conclusion of Ashes to Ashes? And, two, did you guess correctly what was going on? Actually – make that three: Did you make it through without crying? Me, neither.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in approaching this episode with some trepidation – we Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes fans have invested heavily (time, theories and emotions) over the past five years and if the writers fell at the final hurdle it wouldn’t just be disappointing now – it would devalue everything that went before (not to mention taking all the fun out of those DVD boxed sets).

I don’t know about you, but I take my hat off to Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. They crammed the episode chock full of the things we love about LoM and A2A: the great, incomparable Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister in his finest hour yet), a daft TV reference (well done whoever made the papier mache heads of Alex and Gene for that It’s a Knockout run), wonderful Huntisms, spine-tingling tension and some serious chills too. If it wasn’t enough that we’re wrapping up five years of questions (well the most important ones anyway), we get a crime of the week too.

And the truths we’ve been hankering after? Gene tells the truth about Sam in a moment you might otherwise miss – the DCI sent him to get a pint in. It brings a whole new meaning to Last Orders, doesn’t it?

The policeman who’s been haunting Alex? Poor old Gene… a green PC who thought he was Gary Cooper in High Noon and was buried in a shallow grave back in the fifties. But from the moment Gene experiences his own weird TV flashback in Keats’ office, you know your heart is really going to get broken.

Philip Glenister has been the star of the show from Day One (if you don’t believe me, read the reviews of Harvey Keitel trying to wear the Gene Genie’s cowboy boots), but, boy does he blow you away here. The look of trepidation on his face as he drives onto the farm, the terrible, un-Gene-like look on his face as Alex uncovers, first, the bones and then the awful, awful truth. The poignant story-telling in the decrepit farmhouse. Who could blame Gene for forgetting his past, and that this world is a place where coppers go to sort themselves out?

Which answers another question – Ray, Chris, Shaz – they’re all dead coppers working through their issues. But who is Jim Keats? Some sort of demon determined to wrestle some souls into hell it would seem. If there was a line where Gene explained it, we’ll have to wait for the 100-minute version of this episode on the DVD extras I guess. We can only go on the heavy symbolism (Ray, Chris and Shaz being led downstairs for their ‘transfer’) and plentiful hissing noises emanating from Daniel Mays for now. I don’t know which I found more disturbing – Keats driving the Quattro back to London or him stroking Alex in his office. Both had my flesh creeping though.

Neither matches the horror of him leaving the death tapes for Ray, Chris and Shaz though (and let’s not forget the incredible performances of Dean Andrews, Marshall Lancaster and Monserrat Lombard here) or the manic insanity as he tears down the walls of the world. For all that, I love that the team’s love and loyalty is enough to repair the world – and that Alex can restore the Gene Genie to his full powers (and in time to solve that crime of the week).

Funnily enough, for all the revelations, it was the moment that the Dutchmen ‘killed the Quattro’ that really drove home that the end was nigh. Of course, the sight of the Railway Arms – and Nelson – really started the tears falling. And as Gene’s beloved team finally move on, bickering, Alex faces her final test, Gene finally gives Keats that smack in the face and Alex at last kisses that man… well, it’s a good job the tissues were close to hand.

And then, just when you think it’s all over (in every sense), in stumbles some poor sod looking for his iPhone…

So what am I taking with me to bed now? A satisfying explanation for five years of weirdness and the stand-out performance of Philip Glenister – from the vulnerability in the farmhouse to the full-on Armed Bastard. I’m glad that the Gene Genie lives (as it were) to fight many more days – even if we won’t get to see them. Thank you Ashley, Matthew, Philip, Keeley, Dean, Monserrat and John (not forgetting the rest of the cast and crew) – you gave us something wonderful and unique. The Quattro may be dead, but Gene Hunt will live on in our hearts for many years to come.

Posted by Jo the Hat

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Ashes to Ashes (3.7): And now the end is near…

Only in Ashes to Ashes could the funeral of a white-hat character be pretty much the most cheerful moment of the episode.

When the motorised curtains fail to close around Viv’s coffin, Gene’s patience snaps and he stalks to the front of the chapel to tug them shut – and say sorry to his friend. Chris can’t help but see the funny side and stands in his pew giggling like a school boy. It doesn’t endear him to the DCI who is feeling his loss acutely.

Chris’s clumsiness at the wake has a ragged Gene snapping at him – not for the last time this episode. There are fans who weren’t impressed with Gene’s loudly proclaimed loyalty to Viv last week, perhaps they’ll be mollified by the neat little bit of backstory slipped in here – that Viv apologised to Gene when he first arrived in Fenchurch East from Manchester because all Northerners look the same to him; and that he promised to look after our Manc lion.

I’m sure it wasn’t just my heart that sank as Keats collared that roll of film from Alex – there can be no good that comes from that man. Although I’m glad to see that his taunting is water off a duck’s back to Gene now, and that Alex and Gene have the nasty piece of work a bit rattled – “Do you think this is a flirty game between you, me and Gene?” he snaps.

The rest of us are enjoying the flirty game however, as Alex ask Gene what he’s doing tonight. “Going to a revival of The Caretaker at the Royal Court,” he deadpans. When, unsurprisingly, this turns out not to be true, and Alex asks him out for dinner, the nation’s women swooned  and once again wished themselves into her red pointy shoes. Even his declaration ” Got to warn you Bolly, first date, upstairs outside only…” is sweetly endearing. But there is much to get through before we can enjoy some serious chemistry between these two.

There is poor Chris – starting to feel the pressure both from Gene and the literal disintegration of the world. Is that whistle marking the end of the game, perhaps? There is much talk of final chapters, and fighting for our lives, there is the sheer terror of Ray and Shaz as the corridor fills with unexplained noise – all ratcheting up the foreboding and tension a few more notches. Will we find out what’s in the locked red cabinets? Or are they another red herring. (Is all the red stuff a red herring ? It wouldn’t surprise me if the writers were poking a little fun at us and our many theories.)

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Ashes to Ashes (3.6): Braveheart in Paco Rabanne

With the end in sight the Ashes to Ashes team delivered a clenched fist of an episode tonight. Not even top-quality Huntisms (the rioting prisoners are “Scum de la scum – you name it, they raped it, robbed it, killed it.”; his riposte to Alex’s “I hope you’ve got a heart in there.” – “I’ve got two. Mine and some toerag’s I ate earlier.”) could pierce the darkness for more than a moment.

It was a clever move to have Viv taken hostage by the prisoners (as well as essential for the backstory to work) – he’s a sympathetic character, but one we don’t know well enough that we can second guess his reactions. So, we’re worried about him (and that football of his – I can’t help but admire the chutzpah of the writers chucking in random red herrings just to bait us – the bastards) and then there’s the mysterious Paul Thordy (the internet serves up dozens of anagrams for this – many of them faintly mucky-sounding – but none that scream out for attention. I suspect I’ve just had my chain yanked again…).

I had chills and tingles top to toe when Alex opened the cell window on Thordy (the escaped prisoner who apparently precipitated the prison riot) to be confronted by Steven Robinson doing his best Sam Tyler meets the Master impersonation… The mania was very Time Lord, but everything else – that classic Life on Mars intro (“Am I mad, in a coma….”), the intonation, the physical mannerisms, were close enough to conjure the tiniest drop of doubt. After all, we’re told Thordy is a conman and a fantasist – so he can’t be our beloved Sam, surely? When Ray and Chris go to pick him up and declare Alex would go nuts if she knew who he was, they’re alluding to the fact that Thordy was Sam’s last arrest before he died – right?

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